A Japanese Constellation:
Toyo Ito, SANAA, and Beyond
A Japanese Constellation focuses on the work of a small group of architects influenced by Toyo Ito and the firm SANAA. The production, as much as it was a show, serves to display a highly curated portfolio of recent projects by some of the most internationally acclaimed Japanese designers including Sou Fujimoto, Akihisa Hirata, and Junya Ishigami. The catalog of mediums, including models of different materials, drawings, and projected images on a translucent silk divider serves to create a narrative of a unique identity in architecture gravitating around Toyo Ito and his mentorship of a new generation of architects.
These architects represent decades of cutting-edge design activity in Japan. The exhibition’s curator, Pedro Gadanho emphasizes that over the years, their ideas and influences have been shared and networked in a routine crisscross in what he calls a “constellation” of personal and professional relationships. The feeling of lightness, open space, and non-hierarchy and other characteristics of familiar modern architecture is expressed through the architects projects as well as emulated through the use of materials (transparent, translucent and opaque), color (or lack thereof), and spatial set up of the installation. Most of the 44 featured designs, displayed in a pure, white fashion, are articulated through at least a model, drawings (plans and sections), and accompanied by a short summary of the architects motive and process of the design. Some images and renders of completed designs are displayed alongside selected projects.
Ito’s designs and those of the “constellation” seem to reject the strict geometry of Le Corbusier’s International Style, with its rectilinearity, flat planes and gridded column placement. The buildings, ranging in scale from houses and libraries to museums and schools, take formal cues from the natural environment in which the structures are situated, or from the dynamic energy of a large, sprawling city like Tokyo, where people are in constant motion (on foot, by car and subways/trains). The group of architects question how design can be rooted in and guided by such order, while at the same time creating a relationship and merging the architectural languages with the surrounding environment.
Intended as a “reflection on the transmission of an architectural sensibility”, A Japanese Constellation suggests a different approach to what has been commonly described as an individuality-based “star-system” in modern architecture. The exhibition displays the global impact and innovation of contemporary architecture from Japan since the 1990s by exploring a timeline of influences and shared designs.
Sou Fujimoto — Beton Hala Waterfront Center
Sou Fujimoto seeks to create structures that influence social interactions and transform everyday routine. Drawing inspiration from natural forms including trees, caves, gardens and clouds, Sou wishes to mimic their non-hierarchical spatial organizations while exploring a new concept of space and movement of the human body through architecture. He describes this new way of exploring “indeterminate” spaces as a “primitive future” for architecture — recovering the designs role in establishing a relationship between space and the human body. Following the architectural model preceded by Toyo Ito and his firm, the group of Japanese architects have redefined the Le Corbusier “normalcy” we see so much of today in contemporary architecture.
Sou Fujimoto’s designs are characterized by flexible space meant to break boundaries between the interior and exterior and between in the inside and outside. By rethinking architecture’s most basic elements (doors, windows, walls, stairs), Fujimoto’s designs have challenged and critiqued the social role of buildings and spaces for expanding needs, experiences and ways of occupying structures in a contemporary society.
Perched on the edge of the Sava River, which, together with the Danube River, frames Belgrade, this winning competition entry proposes a recreational and commercial center linking the city to the industrial waterfront. Located below Kalemegdan Park, which contains fragments of Belgrades oldest settlements dating back to the Roman Empire, the site is the “locus” of main transportation arteries, including a public tramline, rail and roadways, and the commercial waterway of the river. Taking this activity as its starting point, the proposal joins these confluences with a series of spiraling ramps. Cafes and chess tables are located along the ramps, which are organized around a central atrium. At several points, strands of the circular paths pull out to create a descending channel to link users to the water, or risen aqueduct like walkways to bridge the adjacent road and lift pedestrians into the park. Beton Hala offers a cinematic perspective on the city animated through the structures looping circulation and promenades.
By contrasting the existing medieval fabric with new, clean, white geometry, the waterfront center seems to have an intrusive quality to it. But by seamlessly grabbing facets from the current city and intertwining them into a literally spiraling structure, the structure serves to combine these historic elements of its surrounding environment and bring them into one concentric space. Under the sprawling structure Fujimoto refers to a “floating cloud”, the eye of the whirlpool creates a new public square and part of an exterior exhibition space which continues under the massive roof structure of ramping ribbons.
The Beton Hala Waterfront Center serves to house a “swarm” of visitors by connecting seemingly separated programs of historical significance to modern design. The proposed structure has specific circulation which guides the movement of people into and out of the space, while in the middle experiencing a uniform program either at ground floor, or elevated by one of the many circulation ribbons. The design allows for controlled movement though a seemingly disordered space. Occupants are shielded from the sun and weather by the tangled pedestrian walkways. Acting as a pavilion, the waterfront center has a certain lightness quality to it. Without a roof or walls, the open air structure successfully continues Fujimoto’s language of barrier breaking architecture in contemporary cities.